Few streets of the historical Jewish quarter in Vilnius Old town remained in an acceptable condition after the Second World War. If we are ready to listen, these streets now tell us the story of extraordinary Vilna Jews, that inspired the world-wide image of Vilnius as the North Jerusalem.
Although there are legends that often relate the settlement of Jews in Vilnius with the famous letters of the Grand Duke Gediminas, who invited foreign traders and craftsmen to come and prosper in Vilnius at the beginning of the 14th century, the reality was different – these letters were dedicated only to Christians. So only individual traders or craftsmen of Jewish origin lived at Vilnius of that time. Actually, the Jewish community in Vilnius started to settle in quite late – only in the second half of the 16th century. And in 1633 during the official establishment of the Jewish quarter, one of its streets was already named Jewish street. In the same year, local Jews were allowed to build a mural synagogue in this quarter, and later this synagogue became the famous Great Vilnius synagogue.
The first notion of the Jewish quarter in Vilnius was established by king Vladislav IV in his privilege of 1633. The area of the quarter was restricted to the Butcher`s (Mėsinių) and Jewish streets and the alley of Saint Nicholas. In this quarter Vilna Jews lived and engaged in trade, but they also had property on the other streets of Vilnius. The daily life of Vilna Jews was not strictly restricted by the streets of the quarter as well. In 1742 Jews were granted a privilege to live and trade everywhere in Vilnius except two main streets important to Christian religious processions – from the Gate of Dawn to the Cathedral and from the Gate of Trakai to the Church of Saint Johns`. And in 1861 under the rule of the Russian Empire Vilna Jews were allowed to settle in any street of Vilnius, without any exceptions.
Current Žydų (Jewish), Stiklių (Glassmakers) and M. Antokolskio streets in Vilnius remind us about the initial historical Vilna Jewish quarter. Although during the two occupations in the 20th century – Nazi and Soviet – the signs of Jewish life in this space were gradually destroyed, after Lithuania regained independence in 1990 there are many initiatives in this space to commemorate the history of this quarter. Such small, but meaningful initiatives as a symbolical plate with the Jewish street name in Yiddish or artistic wall paintings related to Jewish images on the streets of the previous Jewish quarter, nurture the memory of unique Jewish community in Vilnius.
Jewish street, 54.679532, 25.285090
The place of the Great Synagogue and shulhof (jid. shulhoyf) (Žydų g. 3), 54.679901, 25.284511
The mausoleum of Vilna Gaon and his family (Jewish cemetery, Sudervė road, 28), 54.712898, 25.234477
A sculpture of Vilna Gaon (Žydų g. 3), 54.680137, 25.285079
Choral synagogue Taharat ha–Kodesh (Pylimo g. 39), 54.676070, 25.281575
Užupis synagogue (Užupio g. 36), 54.681471, 25.298633
A sculpture of doctor Cemachas Šabadas (sculpt. Romualdas Kvintas), 54.677248, 25.284342
Pohulanka (now. J. Basanavičius street), 54.680145, 25.276134
The place of old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės (Olimpiečių g. 1a), 54.690243, 25.291117
Jewish cemetery in Užupis (Olandų g. 22), 54.688106, 25.307748
The printing house of widow Rom and Rom brothers (A. Strazdelio g. 3), 54.675534, 25.292128